Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time. Better than Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, John Elway, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Sammy Baugh, Tom Brady and anyone else you'd like to throw out there.
What is the consistent objection to that statement?
"How many championships does he have?"
It is heard all the time in the Manning-Brady debate. Brady has three, Manning has one and that's the end of the argument as some people are concerned.
Here's an outlandish thought for you to consider: when it comes to championships, who cares? What difference does that really make? Isn't football a team sport? And in a team sport isn't it necessary to have a team to win a championship?
There is an exception to this idea: basketball. In basketball a team only has five players on the court at one time. In crunch time, the Lakers can always get the ball to Kobe Bryant and he can win the game for them almost by himself. That is why the championship argument is relevant in the NBA. Great players can put a team on their back and win a championship.
That's the same in football, the argument goes. The quarterback does the same thing, right?
No, in football, the quarterback can only control a third of the game. Like in baseball, Babe Ruth only came to bat once every nine times. Ruth, as great as he was, had no control over what happened during the other eight at bats. Everyone else could strike out and Ruth couldn't do anything about it.
Likewise, the quarterback has no control over the special teams or the defense. He could throw bombs all game long, his offense could score on every drive, but it all goes for naught if your defense can't stop the other team.
For example, look at last year's Wild Card matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets. With a minute left in the game, Adam Vinatieri capped a Manning-led scoring drive that gave the Colts the lead. Had Manning played particularly well during the game? No. But he put his team in position to win. Indianapolis would have won that game if their special teams and pass defense were able to stop the Jets, which it didn't. New York wins and people look at Manning as a failure that lost another home playoff game.
But was it Manning’s fault that Indy lost that game? No. He gave his defense the lead. That is all a quarterback can do, give your team the lead and let your defense hold it. That’s it. The quarterback can’t go in a make the defensive stops. He can only score points and trust in the defense.
Championships are nice, but if a player can’t impact every facet of the game then it is impractical to judge them by the number of rings. Did New England win their three Super Bowls because they had Tom Brady? Only partially. They won because they had Brady, backs and receivers that had fantastic chemistry with their quarterback, a solid offensive line, consistent special teams, tremendous coaches and one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen. The Patriot dynasty was built on the foundation of a team, not one player.
How should we judge quarterbacks then? We should judge them on the amount of times they put their team in position to win. If the quarterback gets his team in position for a final field goal and the other team returns the ensuing kickoff to win the championship, what more could the QB have done? He did his part, the rest of the team didn’t. Quarterback’s shouldn’t be faulted for that. Judge the quarterback on what they can control, not what they can’t. It is absurd to do otherwise.